The fight over the copyright bills currently being considered in Congress puts on display two of the tech industry’s least attractive characteristics – its sense of entitlement, and its extraordinary lack of knowledge about things outside the area of its core competency.
So it is that the bills in question (the Protect IP and Stop Online Piracy acts) are said by the tech industry’s lobbyists and fan base to threaten the “end of the Internet as we’ve known it,” the same claim they made 13 years ago in opposition to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. (And we all know how that worked out.)
As mentioned in an earlier post, all of the techies profess to have an interest in preventing copyright infringement; it just happens that they oppose anything and everything that’s ever been (or will be) proposed for the purpose.
The earlier blog scored the hyperbolic, not to say hypocritical, aspects of the criticism being leveled at today’s copyright bills. But after reading additional criticism of them published since, it’s clear that I overlooked something.
Though most critics don’t come right out and say so, much of the criticism of the bills springs from people who, convinced that industries like Hollywood and the traditional media are of less importance than the Internet, believe that for this reason copyright laws ought to favor the latter over the former. As one techno-philosopher, commenting on a piece in TechCrunch put it: “The Internet is the new entertainment industry.”
One needn’t dispute the current and future importance of the Internet (and all things digital) to know that this is an inapposite and corrosive argument, for the simple reason that copyright protection was never designed to be meted out in proportion to the financial dimensions of a company or industry. It’s a constitutional law that is meant to protect all copyright holders, whatever their commercial girth or market caps.
To put it another way, the Constitution does not have to accommodate industries; industries have to accommodate the Constitution. This is, after all, one of the reasons we call our own a nation of laws.
Because The Media Institute is not a lobby, we’re not in a position to know whether the House or Senate bills will pass either body. We read that some softening of them may be in the cards, though the recent forceful testimony in support of the bills, as written, by Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante would seem to suggest otherwise.
Whatever the outcome, one thing has been made clear by the tech industry’s shrill opposition. If U.S. copyright laws – and those people and industries that rely on them – are to survive, there will have to be a far more sophisticated and generous understanding of the value in copyrights generally. As Ms. Pallante chillingly put it in her remarks to the House Judiciary Committee: “It is my view that if Congress does not continue to provide serious responses to online piracy, the U.S. copyright system will ultimately fail.”
The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.